Finals week is done for most of us college students, thankfully. This means that, because I had nothing to study for or no homework to do, I was able to spend eight glorious hours on Saturday watching college hoops.
The fun started with Temple and Tennessee and ended with the Michigan State-Alcorn State nailbiter.
Eight straight hours of college basketball. But unlike Jack Bauer, I did take food and bathroom breaks.
Random Thoughts After This Week's Games
*I love Jimmy V week. Sure, the matchups weren’t as great as the ones we saw during feast week, but I love watching Jim Valvano’s ESPY speech and watching highlights of the 1983 title game. On a slightly related note, I had the following discussion with my buddy Hubbell earlier this week:
Hubbell: Dude, my mom met Clyde Drexler today!
Me: Phi Slamma Jamma! Clyde the Glide! I hope she shouted “NC State 1983” at him.
Hubbell: I bet he hates Jimmy V week.
*Temple looked like they were going to whoop Tennessee right from the start, and indeed ended up blowing out the Volunteers. That doesn’t mean that there’s an excuse for the dozens of terrible Christmas-related jokes that analysts were making. We get it. His name is a holiday. It wasn’t funny back in March, and it hasn’t gotten funnier with age either.
*My two least favorite refs always end up working together. Ed Hightower and Jim Burr, the old dude who always looks like he’s just gotten out of bed. They’re doing the Memphis-Georgetown game, and that alone is enough for me to want to change the channel.
*I’ve only seen Greg Monroe play a couple of times this season, but you can already tell that he’s going to be better than Roy Hibbert. Because he can move. Seriously, Hibbert is as awkward on the run as Oliver Miller is at a salad bar.
*I haven’t seen anybody with more confidence in his shot than Stephen Curry. He hit a real cold patch against West Virginia, but he didn’t start forcing his shot. He kept taking good shots, and got hot against at just the right time. Had Curry stopped shooting because he had lost confidence, who hits those big threes towards the end of the game?
*Stephen Curry is to shooting as Blake Griffin is to rebounding. Griffin just wants the ball more than anybody else.
*To everybody else who says that Big Ten offenses are boring, I submit the Michigan State-Alcorn State stats. The Spartans shot 58 percent, and won by 58 points. The only Spartan that didn’t score was Goran Suton, who didn’t dress. I know that a victory over Alcorn State isn’t impressive in itself, but pumping in 118 points against D-1 competition in a mere 40 minutes is, especially when no starter saw the floor for more than 25 minutes.
*UMass is racking up the wins against participants in the 2003 NCAA title game. They beat Syracuse a couple of times last season and took down Kansas by a single point this weekend.
*For ideas on how to beat Texas, teams should be calling…Texas State? They didn’t beat the Longhorns, but they did hold them to 36 percent shooting, outrebounded them, and won the bench scoring battle by 31 points. Think Michigan State will be aware of this? The Spartans have won two straight against Texas, including teams led by Kevin Durant and D.J. Augustin.
*How long is Michigan going to play the disrespect card? If the team gets too involved in what everybody else is doing, they're going to start laying some eggs on the court. Just play the game and let everything work itself out. Unless Michigan has an atrocious conference season, they're in the tournament. Baby steps.
*This week's reason why you can't trust the Big Ten Network: During the Alcorn State-Michigan State game, Marquise Gray took a long jumper with his foot clearly inside the line. It was touching the orange at the top of the key. It wouldn't have been a three with the old line. And yet, the announcers insisted that 'Quise had just spotted up for three. Do they even watch the games? If so, are they sober?
*Is NJIT the Detroit Lions of college basketball, or are the Detroit Lions the NJIT of the NFL? Discuss.
*The best part about the early college basketball season is all the unexpected upsets. Temple was not supposed to beat Tennessee, UMass was not supposed to beat Kansas, Arizona was not supposed to beat Gonzaga and Arizona State was not supposed to need overtime to beat IUPUI (near miss!) And all of this was just in the last week. In conference play, you can bet on an upset or two just because of the familiarity between teams, but in non-conference play, they're always so unexpected and exciting.
*Eric Devendorf, what on earth were you thinking? I wonder if he was brought in by cops dressed like Starsky and Hutch, as a shout out to his Bay City roots.
A Closer Look at...Kentucky vs. Indiana
I struggled with selecting a game for this segment this week. On one hand, you had Georgetown and Memphis facing off right before these two. On the other hand, I love Kentucky and this is a pretty good annual rivalry. Anybody remember Mike Davis' freak-out?
The deciding factor was the officiating crew from the Hoyas' game. I had a feeling that if I tried to take a closer look at that game, the column would be littered with obscenities.
Kentucky and Indiana. Two programs with a rich history, two programs trying to climb back to their former prominence. It's hard to tell which school is closer to a return to glory. Kentucky didn't fall nearly as fall, but Tom Crean is bringing in some studs in next year's recruiting class.
My guess is that the Wildcats start contending for conference titles sooner, but Indiana will be hot on their heels. Neither one of these two will be down for long though.
The broadcast of this game began a little late thanks to overtime in the Georgetown-Memphis game, but we're treated to an early look-in. It's 19-4 Kentucky. Put a fork in the Hoosiers. They look absolutely shell-shocked.
The huge Wildcat lead is a little deceptive though. Indiana is bad, and Kentucky isn't exactly playing great basketball. They're turning the ball over and taking bad shots, but Indiana isn't good enough to capitalize on any of these mistakes. Kentucky looks like they've just set up on a gym on campus somewhere and are taking on any and all comers.
The turnovers and bad shots are masking an even bigger problem though: Kentucky's guards are back to ignoring Patrick Patterson. This is a problem that could kill their season. He finished with 12 points, but that won't be good enough against Tennessee or Florida.
Look at Patterson's stat line from the season opening loss to VMI. 27 minutes, eight points on 3-4 shooting. How does your best player only get four field goal attempts in a close game? How does a dominant post presence not get more field goal attempts against a team that doesn't have anybody who can defend him?
Same issue against Indiana. Look, he's shooting over 71 percent for the season. It's not like letting him take 15-20 shots a game is going to hurt your team. He gets loads of high-percentage looks. You want to win? Let him take those shots. You want to make a run to the NIT title game? By all means, keep the ball away from him.
Even if he doesn't take those shots, the offense still opens up when Patterson gets touches in the post. He'll draw double teams and start finding the open man. What if Jodie Meeks' man goes to help out? Then Meeks will punish the opposition.
Kentucky has the talent to be in the top 25, but they don’t seem to have the desire. Most of their problems this season will come back to that. Patrick Patterson is one of the best big men in the country, Jodie Meeks provides the Wildcats with a good scoring option, and DeAndre Liggins is a talented freshman. They’ve got some pieces in place, but I’m just continually surprised by the effort.
Rick Pitino's teams never had this issue, and quite frankly, I'm surprised that any Kentucky team does. The fans won't stand for anything less than your full effort when you wear that uniform.
Kentucky still looks better than they did last season, but it's obvious that they've got a long way to go. They're making mistakes that aren't typical of Wildcats basketball and they aren't playing up to their potential at all. Look for another up and down season in Lexington.
Spotlight on...The SEC
I grew up in the middle of SEC country, Lexington, but I've been away for over a decade. It was time to bring in somebody who is still in the thick of things down in SEC country. This week's guest is college basketball community leader Tim Pollock.
Joe Guarr: Who's your favorite college hoops team? How did you come to root for them?
Tim Pollock: I hate to do this, but I'd rather not answer this question. I try not to do the favorite team thing as to avoid the homer call. People assume I love South Carolina since I live in Columbia, but I have only lived here for a bit. I cheer for them and write about them because it's my city and the place my son (now 6 months) was born. If that's lame, let me know...(or just skip this one).
JG: Not lame at all, though I've been guilty of homerism on more than one occasion. What's your favorite college hoops memory?
TP: Favorite college hoops memory has to be the Bo Kimble-Loyola Marymount run after Hank Gathers' death in 1990. As an 11 seed, this team went all the way to the Elite Eight, losing to the eventual champion, UNLV.
At the time, I was in middle school and just starting to get into college hoops. Watching Kimble shoot those left-handed free throws while his team racked up tons of points was awesome. I probably didn't understand how important that run was at my age then, but to look back on it now, it seems amazing. And it's always cool when we are reminded to keep things in perspective when it comes to sports—there are other things more important.
JG: The SEC is a conference with one of the most decorated programs in all of college basketball, but the old guard has been changing in recent times. What's happening? Are other teams getting better, or is Kentucky getting worse?
TP: I hate to say it, but the SEC is awful. Just plain awful. I see maybe three (four at the most) tourney teams from the conference, and I doubt any one of them will go beyond the first weekend.
I don't see a changing of the guard just yet. Kentucky lost a ton of production from last year, but I see them coming up again in 1-2 years; FL will be back; Vandy is always solid; South Carolina has some serious athletes and is recruiting very well; and Arkansas, MSU, and Ole Miss all seem on the verge.
There just isn't that dominant team. I think there will be more splits this year in conference play than ever before. Very few teams will be able to take both home and away wins, even Tennessee.
JG: What does the SEC have that sets it apart from other conferences?
TP: First, it has two very recent NCAA rings behind FL's success. SEC also has rabid fan bases that make for excellent home court advantage, and there are a lot of good coaches (many of them very young as well) who are a year or two away from making the league super competitive again.
JG: Let's get some predictions from you. Please give a sentence or two to explain. Who's your SEC champ?
TP: Regular season: Tennessee; Tournament: LSU. Tennessee is so up and down and just doesn't seem tournament-built. I like LSU's depth and athleticism.
JG: Dark horse?
TP: Really any team not named Tennessee, but I'll go with Ole Miss, if Chris Warren can figure out how to pass every once in a while. LSU doesn't count as a dark horse.
TP: Florida, again. Donovan's sophomores continue to disappoint, and the upperclassmen just don't bring enough to the table.
JG: Player of the Year?
TP: Tyler Smith. The guy does everything.
JG: All-SEC team?
TP: I like a five-guy team with one bench player rather than the 20 first and second teams the press picks. Devan Downey, Nick Calathes, Jodie Meeks, Tyler Smith and Patrick Patterson.
Bench: Tasmin Mitchell
JG: Lastly, let's do a little word association. I'll give you an SEC-related item, and you give me the first thing that pops into your head. Rupp Arena.
TP: Living in the past.
JG: Ouch! Billy Donovan.
TP: Billy Donovan: Underrated. Two National Championship rings and still no SEC Coach of the Year award.
TP: Eternally on the cusp.
JG: Bruce Pearl.
TP: Great for college basketball.
JG: South Carolina.
TP: On the rise.
Many thanks to Tim for being such a gracious participant! Remember, if you'd like to have your thoughts heard in a future "Spotlight on..." segment, drop a note on my bulletin board.
Spring Course Catalog
Plenty of teams have lots of improvements to make, and what better way to do that than by taking a course at the local community college? Here's what's being offered and who's signing up.
An introduction to basic principles of rebounding. This course will feature several guest lectures by esteemed professor emeritus Charles Barkley. Students will learn how to stop thinking about boxing out and will be able to “just go get the damn ball.”
Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans are usually renowned for their tenacity on the boards, but not this season. Michigan State has found themselves on the wrong end of the rebounding battle more than once this season and will need to correct that problem if they hope to advance deep into the NCAA Tournament.
Feeling like you're better than some of the teams ranked ahead of you? Feel like your losses are better than their losses? Gain the statistical analysis skills necessary to make your argument complete.
The Michigan Wolverines have gotten a head start on their coursework here. Should they be ranked? Yes. Will they make the NCAA Tourney when all is said and done? Yes. Should they be comparing themselves to Michigan State? Ehhh, take care of your own business first. The irony is that when MSU fans compare themselves to Michigan during football season, they get laughed at.
Seminar on Basketball Prosperity
This is a course designed for those teams and conferences looking to start building winners. Remember, strong conferences are made up of plenty of strong teams. This seminar will focus on coaching fundamentals, recruiting techniques and scheduling practices.
The entire Southwestern Athletic Conference could use some instruction on how to build a winning program. As of right now, nobody in the conference has a better record than 3-6. Four teams are still winless. Prairie View A&M has actually outscored their opponents, but is well below .500. You can't blame this on tough scheduling though. Four teams haven't played a single team in the AP Top 25, including winless Southern University. Expect this conference to send their champ to the play-in game.
What I'm Watching This Week
Saturday has plenty of great games for college basketball fans.
Michigan State will try and make it three straight wins against Texas as the two powers clash in Houston. Be sure to watch the matchup between Kalin Lucas and AJ Abrams, two of the best guards in the country.
Saturday also brings you a matchup between Xavier and Duke. Xavier already boasts a big win over Memphis and will be looking to add another marquee win to their resume when they face Duke.
Gonzaga and Connecticut also meet in a rematch of the 2000 Elite Eight, the tournament where Gonzaga first burst onto the scene. Connecticut won that game and the National Title, but Gonzaga will be looking a win to help them bounce back from the upset at the hands of Arizona. This game should have a big impact on how people view Gonzaga this season.
Some of the nation's scrappiest youngsters will try to contain the nation's best shooter when Davidson travels to Purdue. Will Chris Kramer be able to keep Stephen Curry in check? He's a tenacious defender but Curry is a smart offensive player.
Lastly, Memphis plays their second game against marquee Big East opposition when they take on Syracuse. Georgetown beat the Tigers in overtime, and Syracuse will also hope to walk away with a win. Jonny Flinn vs. Tyreke Evans? If that doesn't excite you, nothing will.